House Votes to Shortchange War-Fighting Fund to Buy Aircraft

  • Defense authorization bill would set 2017 military priorities
  • Passage of $610.5 billion measure delays draft-women decision

The U.S. House passed a $610.5 billion defense policy bill that would give the Pentagon less war-fighting money than requested to make the balance sheets work, at least temporarily, while permitting billions extra for new fighter aircraft, helicopters, military personnel and their pay.

The strategy, which would require emergency funding next year to continue the fight against Islamic State terrorists, has already brought a veto threat from the White House. But the legislation’s chief author, Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, said the war-fund maneuver is the best way to pay for all the things needed to improve combat readiness.

“We had to make difficult choices,” the Texas Republican said during debate on the bill, which passed 277-147. “We should not send anyone on a mission for which they are not fully prepared.”

The measure covers the year beginning Oct. 1, so it would straddle two presidential administrations. Thornberry’s strategy assumes that when the slimmed-down war-funding account runs dry, President Barack Obama’s successor will ask Congress for an emergency supplemental war appropriation to fight Islamic State and continue other military operations overseas.

If Congress sends Obama a bill “that includes a raid on war funding that risks stability and gambles with war funding, jeopardizes readiness, and rejects key judgments of the Department, I will be compelled to recommend that he veto the bill,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said this week.

The annual authorization bill is both a policy blueprint and a road map for companies that sell weapons, vehicles and services to the Pentagon, telling them how much to expect the government to spend on each type of purchase. What’s included and what’s omitted can both be significant. For instance, early in the process the bill was going to be the conduit for a debate over requiring women to register for the draft; with that language deleted, a floor fight on the topic was avoided.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on its version of the fiscal 2017 authorization next week. The House-passed version, H.R. 4909, would maintain the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, significantly cut National Security Council personnel and oppose the Pentagon’s request to start another round of base closures.

Highlights

FUNDING MANEUVER: The House bill would tap $18 billion from the Overseas Contingency Operations account -- the war-fighting fund -- to finance programs usually funded as part of the Defense Department’s regular appropriation, which is capped under a 2015 bipartisan budget agreement, Public Law 114-74. The war funds would pay for high-profile weapons systems such as Boeing Co.’s the Super Hornets and Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35s.

AIRCRAFT: The bill would allot $1.4 billion for an additional 14 Super Hornets made by Boeing Co. that weren’t included in the Pentagon’s budget request. An additional $1.5 billion would go toward buying 11 of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. It would also allot $450 million for four of Boeing’s C-40A planes for the Navy and
Marine Corps.

The A-10 “Warthog” would once again be protected from retirement -- something the Air Force wants to begin in 2018. The measure would mandate that the Air Force keep 171 of the armor-piercing aircraft. It would prohibit the service from making any moves to retire the planes until the Pentagon’s chief tester conducts a fly-off between the far more advanced F-35 and the A-10 for certain missions such as close-air support. The House voted to allow as much as $218.5 million for the Cold War-era plane, including $120 million for new wings being handled by Boeing in Macon, Georgia.

HELICOPTERS: The measure would add $190 million for Boeing’s Apache attack helicopters within the special Overseas Contingency Operations fund. It would include $73 million
for the advance procurement of materials.

Sikorsky, now a unit of Lockheed, would be in line for $440.2 million for its UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. Sikorsky also could benefit from an additional $80 million earmarked for the Air Force’s program to replace its Vietnam-era UH-1N Huey helicopters which guard nuclear missile silos.

The House adopted a provision sponsored by Montana Republican Ryan Zinke that would fence off 25 percent of the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer’s travel and representational budget until the secretary certifies there’s a competitive acquisition process in place to have Huey replacement aircraft under contract in fiscal 2018. The Hueys guard missile silos in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. The congressional delegations from those states, as well as the Connecticut delegation, have been pushing for Sikorsky’s Black Hawks. Sikorsky builds the helicopters in Connecticut.

Airbus Group would benefit with an added authorization of $110 million for its Lakota light utility helicopters. About $189 million in additional procurement money would go for the
V-22 made by Boeing and Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron Inc.

SHIPS: The measure would authorize a third Littoral Combat Ship, made in two versions by Austal Ltd. and a team led by Lockheed, as well as a third DDG-51 destroyer, made by General Dynamics Corp., that wasn’t requested by the Pentagon.

The bill would authorize construction money for the first Ohio-class replacement submarine. The authorized funding would be at $1.9 billion, the level requested by the administration, according to a committee release. The new ballistic missile submarine is under a contract to General Dynamics’s Electric Boat unit. The bill would oppose the Navy’s plans to disband one of the Navy’s 10 carrier air wings.

ROCKET ENGINES: The bill would allow for the purchase of as many as 18 Russian RD-180 rocket engines for the Air Force’s space launches. The provision would increase
the purchases from nine to as many as 18 rocket engines. The provision is a victory for United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed joint venture, which uses Russian rocket engines for space launches under the Evolved Expandable Launch Vehicle Program. ULA has argued it needs the engine to be able to compete against billionaire Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX. Pentagon officials also have said ULA would need about 18 Russian engines before a U.S.-made alternative can be certified for launches in early 2020s.

PERSONNEL: The measure would require a 2.1 percent pay raise for military members instead of the 1.6 percent increase requested by the Obama administration. Instead of the troop cuts proposed by the Defense Department, the measure recommends an
increase of 20,000 for the active-duty Army to a total of 480,000; an increase of 3,000 to the Marine Corps for a total of 185,000; and an increase of 4,000 to the Air Force to a total of 321,000. For the Navy, the committee endorsed a personnel increase to 324,615
from 322,900.

GOLDWATER-NICHOLS REVISIONS: The tenure of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s top military official, would increase to four years from two under the bill. The proposal is part of an overhaul of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act that defines the Defense Department’s institutional organization. The measure would stagger the chairman of the Joint Chiefs’ tenure from the presidential election cycle for greater continuity and stability in military leadership during political transitions. Under the same proposal, combatant commands would have reduced staff and fewer generals with four-star status.

The measure would establish Cyber Command as a stand-alone command rather than continue it as part of a larger organization known as U.S. Strategic Command.

BUY AMERICAN: Boston, Massachusetts-based New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. would benefit from a provision requiring the Pentagon to provide recruits with American-made athletic shoes instead of giving them a cash allowance to purchase footwear. The provision, championed by Massachusetts Democrat Niki Tsongas, is the latest step in a long-running effort.

ACQUISITION OVERHAUL: The measure would continue steps to overhaul the way the Pentagon buys its weapons. This year the panel touched on intellectual property issues, a contentious matter between contractors and the Defense Department. The bill would require that all components of a weapons system conform to open interfaces in order to plug into an overall system. Privately funded components would remain the intellectual property of the developer, under the measure, while a jointly funded capability would be subject to negotiation between the government and the developer. The measure would make the military services accountable for major joint weapons programs after Oct. 1, 2019.

INTERNATIONAL ENGAGEMENTS: The measure would allow as much as $680 million to be spent to train and equip Iraqi forces, including an additional $50 million to support Kurdish fighters. It would approve $150 million in security assistance for Ukraine. The measure also endorses keeping 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan next year instead of the planned 5,500.

MORE DETAILS: The BGOV Bill Summary provides more information and explains additional provisions of the bill known as the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA.

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